Anti-slavery tsar calls for councils to take on child trafficking cases | Society

The UK’s independent anti-slavery commissioner has called for decision-making on child trafficking cases to be taken away from the Home Office.

Sara Thornton told the Independent that local authorities should take over the powers because they are better placed to provide subsequent support for the child.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said huge funding cuts meant councils were already struggling to cope with the growing problem of child criminal exploitation.

The Home Office processes claims through a system called the national referral mechanism (NRM), which identifies and provides help to victims of modern-day slavery.

The number of British children referred into the NRM has been rising in recent years, mainly because of county lines exploitation. Thornton told the Guardian there was a need for such children, who are often already known to social services, to be assessed by local services that know them and would have a greater interest in their wellbeing.

“Over 2,000 children were referred into the national referral mechanism between September 2018 and September 2019. The numbers of child victims of modern slavery identified in the UK are rising every year, and many of these children are victims of county lines exploitation. These children are extremely vulnerable and are often well known to local children’s services,” she said.

“It is essential that there is a close alignment between the NRM system and the need for these children to be protected from significant harm. Most people in the sector appear to support much greater local engagement in decision-making about children.”

The Guardian has previously reported on Home Office failings that have led to victims of exploitation being repeatedly trafficked or jailed for immigration offences rather than given support.

But the LGA responded with a warning that swingeing cuts to council budgets were making it difficult for councils to respond effectively to the growing problem of child exploitation.

Simon Blackburn, the chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “The exploitation of children and vulnerable adults by county lines drugs gangs is a significant and growing concern for councils, who take this issue extremely seriously.

“Councils are working hard to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse through county lines activity, but this is increasingly difficult due to significant pressure on councils’ budgets and soaring demand for urgent child protection work.”

He continued: “Any new burdens on councils to tackle county lines activities, including introducing localised decision-making processes, needs to be fully funded. Children’s services are already starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day. This is forcing councils to divert funding away from preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.

“Councils want to work with the government to help it understand these pressures and how it can use the budget to provide enough funding to prevent children from being exploited and ensure the right support is available for all young people, whatever their needs.”

One expert working with families said there would be challenges if councils were asked to do more to protect child trafficking victims.

BeSpaceAware is an organisation that helps parents and families fight for recognition of county lines abuse and greater protection of victims. Its spokesperson – commenting anonymously because of the sensitive nature of their work – said: “I welcome the comments from Dame Sara Thornton because it’s rare to see county lines mentioned as a form of slavery, but I strongly disagree with her. The Home Office have had a huge amount of criticism and while they are not brilliant, it would be better to leave the powers with them rather than give them to local authorities.

“Councils don’t have the awareness or expertise around modern slavery, so to ask them to do this would involve really massive work, a national level of work for it to happen.”

The Home Office said: “The UK government is at the forefront of the global fight against modern slavery and is committed to stamping out this abhorrent crime. We are identifying more victims than ever before and have already implemented a number of significant reforms to the national referral mechanism aimed at improving the speed, quality and independence of the decision making, and offering the best possible support to victims.”

Source link